The dark side of the whiteboard - Leave me alone with my mantra

25th June 2010 at 01:00

Nick Clegg and I have one thing in common (well, two if you include not voting for David Cameron) - transcendental meditation. TM, for those of you who don't know, is a meditation technique favoured by the middle classes, the Beatles and people with addictive personalities.

It's not too difficult to spot where Clegg fits in, and as for me ... well, let's just say that Philip Morris shares dived the day I swapped my Marlboro for a mantra. Certainly, one of the most attractive aspects of TM is that you are always alone with a mantra; it's one of the few times when you can justifiably shut your classroom door, close your eyes and delegate the shrill cries of "Miss, Miss, the boys' toilets are blocked again" to someone else.

TM is a great way of de-stressing, and I suspect that over the coming months I am going to need it more than usual. Why? Because the Coalition has put education up for grabs and suddenly everyone is an "expert". A disused warehouse, some plausible friends and a half-decent sperm count are all that it takes to set up your own free school. It's a trendy new hobby favoured by every Tom, Dick and Toby, but while they are setting up their visionary futuristic schools they should take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The controversial free school agenda caused a heated debate at a barbeque I organised last weekend to celebrate the return of my estranged husband. He and I have been feeling our way towards some sort of reconciliation, the success of which largely depends on me not being a teacher and him not being a complete bastard. High on his agenda, sandwiched between "being left the fuck alone" and "never having to empty the dishwasher - ever", is a demand for unlimited sexual congress between 7pm and 7am; top of my agenda is that he occasionally mows the lawn. We fell at the first hurdle when he failed to realise that getting out the Flymo was an integral part of foreplay. I am now looking for a gardener and he is back at his mother's with a box of tissues and a web browser.

But while the barbeque didn't save my marriage, it certainly polarised my guests on the free school front. In favour was a charismatic bearded chap called John. I should have spotted that he was an educational consultant by his rehearsed integrity and his de rigueur leather jacket. He reminded me of the messianic public speakers we invite into school to fortify the over-40s on Inset days. They begin by recounting the tragic tale of a drug-addicted teenage sex-trade worker who turns the corner because of one remarkable teacher. Then their show-stopping finale is the revelation, delivered sotto voce, that they were that drug-addled teenager. Hallelujah! Everyone cries, they pick up their fat cheques and management announce their first round of budget cuts.

Brandishing a beefburger, this particular consultant described the sort of school he wanted to run. No worksheets, no exclusions, no narrow objectives. In his school, learning would be a multi-dimensional creative journey that fed the mind and freed the imagination. Great if you want the next generation to study sonic arts and roll spliffs. But with a greying population to support, these kids need to study economics, medicine and social care so that when the rest of us are incontinent, demented and broke they can bankroll our retirements and mop up the mess.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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